Wednesday, December 14, 2005


PRIMAL ATTRACTION: Waiters hoisting swords of glistening meat roam around the expansive dining room at Fogo de Chao (1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-347-4668), looking for signs that patrons of the just-opened Brazilian restaurant want them to carve off a slice or two from their skewers of pork, beef, chicken and lamb. Using green- and red-sided disks, diners get to set the pace of their meals: When the green side is displayed, the meat cutters swarm a table. When the red side is up, they know to stop slicing.

If you like protein -- and the concept of all-you-can-eat -- this churrascaria (meat restaurant) is for you. Fogo de Chao trots out 15 different cuts and a 30-item salad bar that definitely encourage overindulging.

The main attraction, rubbed with rock salt and cooked over a gas fire, is mostly succulent; juicy top sirloin, crusty pork ribs and garlicky prime sirloin rank among my suggested picks. While it's fun to find smoked salmon and hearts of palm at the salad bar, I'm less enamored of the cottony tomatoes and bland potato salad. And the side dishes that come with the meat -- wet mashed potatoes, crackery polenta -- need rethinking.

Weighing in with 350 seats spread across two floors, the newcomer replaces the deli known as Stacks and represents the 10th such steakhouse for the Brazilian-based chain, which counts five other branches in the United States.

How did we experience such expert service only a day after the dinner and a show was introduced (and playing to a packed house)? A manager explained that at least 20 members of the Washington staff relocated from sister restaurants and that most of the meat carvers learned their craft where they grew up: Brazil.

Lunch $24.50, dinner $44.50. Prices do not include drinks, dessert, tax or gratuity.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company